By John Schmeelk
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No right-minded Yankees fan should have felt good about this team heading into the playoffs. After just two games, all of a sudden it feels like 2009 again. The Yankees are getting hits with runners on base, and for the most part, stranding fewer runners. Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia at the top of the rotation are pretty much as good as anyone in the league. Mark Teixeira is looking healthy. They Yankees look and feel like a championship team.
There are even a few things they are doing better than the 2009 Yankees. Kerry Wood bounced back in Game 2 of the ALDS and looked unhittable. It was a performance he can use to catapult him forward. Dave Robertson still has the knack for getting out of jams. The Yankees 8th inning bridge last year was shaky at best with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain both struggling.
As for the offense, Curtis Granderson is hitting like the Yankees thought he would. Brett Gardner is one of the biggest pests in all of baseball. Lance Berkman has carried his late season success into the postseason. As unlikely as it would have sounded a month ago, considering defense, speed and offense, those three might actually be an upgrade over Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.
There are still question marks. How will Phil Hughes pitch as the team’s third starter? Will A.J. Burnett be stable when he has to pitch in the ALCS and World Series? Will the situational hitting continue to improve? Who will get lefties out in the late innings? And there’s always the possibility that these first two games were a huge tease and the team will fall into the doldrums they lived in for most of September.
However, that seems unlikely. It really seems like the Yankees simply flipped the switch once they got into the playoffs. It looks like a completely different team. The Twins are being buried like they are whenever they meet the Yankees in the postseason. Mentally, Minnesota has already lost the series. Let’s see if this dominance lasts deep into October. Right now, there’s no reason to think it won’t.
– There’s a lot of Jorge Posada bashing going around. I’m really tired of it. When are people going to realize that his bat will win far more games than his glove will lose? He’s a professional hitter that will happily slap a single the other way with a runner in scoring position or he can crank a game winning HR with no one on and the team down a run. He’s very valuable.
– The Curtis Granderson trade was looking like an absolute disaster with Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy both playing well in 2010. However, if Granderson can sustain his play over the last month and a half over an entire season he might just be worth the price paid.
– As I mentioned on twitter yesterday (follow me at twitter.com/Schmeelk), in Andy Pettitte’s last 13 postseason starts for the Yankees he is 8-1 with a 2.53 ERA, and 68 K’s in 78 innings. He has not given up more than 4 runs in any of those starts. In his younger days, Pettitte was good for a blowup start every few games, when he would just get shelled. That simply doesn’t happen anymore and he was dominant in Game 2.
– For those of you that were actually worried about Mariano Rivera, shame on you. And it was absolutely the right move to bring him into the game in the 8th inning in Game 1. Generally, I’m against using him for more than an inning, but the magnitude of the game and situation demanded it.
– How about Lance Berkman? Wow. He started hitting in September but the power he showed against the Twins in Game 2 was something new. If he can start hitting like that, this Yankees lineup will be almost impossible to contain.
– Roy Halladay is so good, I’m not surprised when he throws a no-hitter in the playoffs.
– The Rays happened to get bad pitching in their first two games against the Rangers, and that’s why they look as bad as they do. Yankees fans should get ready to see Cliff Lee in the ALCS.
– I’d be shocked if the Phillies don’t show up in the World Series. The only team that can beat them is the Giants, and only if their starters get hot.
– Some things are complicated. This is simple: the goal is to get as many calls as possible right. I’d rather lose five minutes of my life waiting for an umpire to get a call right by watching a replay, than watch an angry manager argue a bad call for five minutes. In other words, expanded replay is in most cases, a good thing.